Who hasn't bought a bottle of duty-free booze? Duty free wine selections usually suck, but major liquor brands are just as good in the tax-free litre size.
Some companies make special bottlings for duty free, but they rarely proclaim it. I've never seen a sign reading, "Duty free only" in an airport liquor shop. Maybe stores think that's a negative, and it would be, if companies were dumping their bad barrels on transient buyers. But I don't think they are; it would damage the brand's reputation, and who knows which countries the disappointment would spread to?
At the same time, there's no reason for a duty-free-only whisky to be great -- the premium you get for greatness is collected in specialty shops. Many duty free buyers are shopping purely for lower prices. For the others, airport employees or stewardi reap the premium you get for selling booze to people who should have bought it earlier. That requires competence, even goodness, but greatness -- complexity, length, finish -- might actually be a minus for these consumers.
In other words, if duty free booze buyers were seeking a superb spirit, they would have sought one before going to the airport.
Given the requirements, The Macallan's 1824 Collection does the job. It's different from the company's regular lineup in both label and taste profile, so it's exclusive. And it's good, and understandable, rather than great.
My favorite in the lineup, by a large margin, is the cheapest, The Macallan Select Oak. It's still not cheap at $53/litre, but the others are 2, 3 and 40 times as costly. But that said, I didn't get a sample of the $2000 one. Not that I blame them: a $2000 whisky is sold to people who want to own a $2000 whisky. Why risk reviews?
So if you found this review on your Blackberry at the airport, and you've read this far, go ahead and make the purchase. See if you can expense it.
The Macallan 1824 Collection Select Oak ($53/litre)
Aromas of golden raisins, currants, just a hint of caramel. Also notes of lime and fresh green grass. A very fruity aroma.
Straight up, it's also fruity on the palate. After an initial blast of oak, it melts into caramel- and chocolate-covered raisin. Gets more raisiny on finish. With a drop of water, the aroma gets more floral, though golden raisins still dominate. Smoother on palate with water added as expected, more of a toasted almond flavor than the raisiny notes. I like this one best straight. Best value in the lineup.
The Macallan 1824 Collection Whisky Maker's Edition ($99/litre)
Aromas of toasted almonds, chocolate, cherries, roasted pear, toasted almonds. Much richer than the Select Oak. A hint of peat on this one. Notably alcoholic straight up; too hot to drink straight in fact (though it's just 40% alcohol, same as the Select Oak). Gives toasted almond flavor and some toasted wheat bread as well. But I want a wee drop of water. After adding it, the pear notes of the aroma intensify, along with some honeycomb and butterscotch. Definitely better drinking with a wee drop – I taste some peat, some butterscotch (though it's not sweet) and some roasted pear. I like this whiskey, but I like the Select Oak neat better.
The Macallan 1824 Collection Estate Reserve ($165/700 ml)
Aromas of wildflowers, honeycomb, bay leaf, a little bit of peat. It's hot on the palate, with bay leaf and some honeycomb. But too hot to drink straight; it's 45.7% alcohol, while the other two are 40%. Wee drop added, the aroma gets more white-wine like – floral – with a hint of peat. Nice on the palate; buttered popcorn, a floral note, bay leaf, a little peppery on finish. Rich and smooth. That said, it's a nice whisky, don't get me wrong, but it's not the best in this collection.